Moving Picture Girls
First Appearances in Photo Dramas
LAURA LEE HOPE
AUTHOR OF THE BOBBSEY TWINS, THE BOBBSEY TWINS IN THE COUNTRY, THE BOBBSEY TWINS AT SNOW LODGE, THE OUTDOOR GIRLS OF DEEPDALE, THE OUTDOOR GIRLS AT RAINBOW LAKE, ETC.
THE WORLD SYNDICATE PUBLISHING CO.
CLEVELAND NEW YORK Made in U. S. A.
COPYRIGHT, 1914, BY GROSSET & DUNLAP
PRESS OF THE COMMERCIAL BOOKBINDING CO. CLEVELAND
I AN UNCEREMONIOUS DEPARTURE 1
II RUSS DALWOOD APOLOGIZES 11
III THE OLD TROUBLE 20
IV DESPONDENCY 33
V REPLACED 43
VI A NEW PROPOSITION 51
VII ALICE CHANGES HER MIND 60
VIII "PAY YOUR RENT, OR——" 70
IX MR. DEVERE DECIDES 78
X THE MAN IN THE KITCHEN 87
XI RUSS IS WORRIED 96
XII THE PHOTO DRAMA 106
XIII MR. DEVERE'S SUCCESS 113
XIV AN EMERGENCY 124
XV JEALOUSIES 132
XVI THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS 140
XVII A PROMISE 151
XVIII A HIT 159
XIX A BIT OF OUTDOORS 170
XX FARMER SANDY APGAR 181
XXI OVERHEARD 189
XXII THE WARNING 197
XXIII THE MISSING MODEL 205
XXIV THE PURSUIT 214
XXV THE CAPTURE 221
AN UNCEREMONIOUS DEPARTURE
"Oh, isn't it just splendid, Ruth? Don't you feel like singing and dancing? Come on, let's have a two-step! I'll whistle!"
"Alice! How can you be so—so boisterous?" expostulated the taller of two girls, who stood in the middle of their small and rather shabby parlor.
"Boisterous! Weren't you going to say—rude?" laughingly asked the one who had first spoken. "Come, now, 'fess up! Weren't you?" and the shorter of the twain, a girl rather plump and pretty, with merry brown eyes, put her arm about the waist of her sister and endeavored to lead her through the maze of chairs in the whirl of a dance, whistling, meanwhile, a joyous strain from one of the latest Broadway successes.
"Oh, Alice!" came in rather fretful tones. "I don't—"
"You don't know what to make of me? That's it; isn't it, sister mine? Oh, I can read you like a book. But, Ruth, why aren't you jolly once in a while? Why always that 'maiden all forlorn' look on your face? Why that far-away, distant look in your eyes—'Anne, Sister Anne, dost see anyone approaching?' Talk about Bluebeard! Come on, do one turn with me. I'm learning the one-step, you know, and it's lovely!
"Come on, laugh and sing! Really, aren't you glad that dad has an engagement at last? A real engagement that will bring in some real money! Aren't you glad? It will mean so much to us! Money! Why, I haven't seen enough real money of late to have a speaking acquaintance with it. We've been trusted for everything, except carfare, and it would have come to that pretty soon. Say you're glad, Ruth!"
The younger girl gave up the attempt to entice her sister into a dance, and stood facing her, arm still about her waist, the laughing brown eyes gazing mischievously up into the rather sad blue ones of the taller girl.
"Glad? Of course I'm glad, Alice DeVere, and you know it. I'm just as glad as you are that daddy has an engagement. He's waited long enough for one, goodness knows!"
"You have a queer way of showing your gladness," commented the other drily, shrugging her shapely shoulders. "Why, I can hardly keep still. La-la-la-la! La-la-la-la! La-la-la!" She hummed the air of a Viennese waltz song, meanwhile whirling gracefully about with extended arms, her dress floating about her balloonwise.
"Oh, Alice! Don't!" objected her sister.
"Can't help it, Ruth. I've just got to dance. La-la!"
She stopped suddenly as a vase crashed to the floor from a table, shattering into many pieces.
"Oh!" cried Alice, aghast, as she stood looking at the ruin she had unwittingly wrought. "Oh, dear, and daddy was so fond of that vase!"
"There, you see what you've done!" exclaimed Ruth, who, though only seventeen, and but two years older than her sister, was of a much more sedate disposition. "I told you not to dance!"
"You did nothing of the sort, Ruth DeVere. You just stood and looked at me, and you wouldn't join in, and maybe if you had this wouldn't have happened—and—and—"
She did not finish, her voice trailing off rather dismally as she stooped to pick up the pieces of the vase.
"It can't be mended, either," she went on, and when she looked up the merry brown eyes were veiled in a mist of tears. Ruth's heart softened at once.
"There, dear!" she said in consoling tones. "Of course you couldn't help it. Don't worry. Daddy won't mind when you tell him you were just doing a little waltz of happiness because he has an engagement at last."
She, too, stooped and her light hair mingled with the dark brown tresses of her sister as they gathered up the fragments.
"I don't care!" announced Alice, finally, as she sank into a chair. "I'll tell dad myself. I'm glad, anyhow, even if the vase is broken. I never liked it. I don't see why dad set such store by the old thing."
"You forget, Alice, that it was one of—"
"Mother's—yes, I know," and she sighed. "Father gave it to her when they were married, but really, mother was like me—she never cared for it."
"Yes, Alice, you are much as mother was," returned Ruth, with gentle dignity. "You are growing more like her every day."
"Am I, really?" and in delight the younger girl sprang up, her grief over the vase for the moment forgotten. "Am I really like her, Ruth? I'm so glad! Tell me more of her. I scarcely remember her. I was only seven when she died, Ruth."
"Eight, my dear. You were eight years old, but such a tiny little thing! I could hold you in my arms."
"You couldn't do it now!" laughed Alice, with a downward glance at her plump figure. Yet she was not over-plump, but with the rounding curves and graces of coming womanhood.
"Well, I couldn't hold you long," laughed Ruth. "But I wonder what is keeping daddy? He telephoned that he would come right home. I'm so anxious to have him tell us all about it!"
"So am I. Probably he had to stay to arrange about rehearsals," replied Alice. "What theater did he say he was going to open at?"
"The New Columbia. It's one of the nicest in New York, too."
"Oh, I'm so glad. Now we can go to a play once in a while—I'm almost starved for the sight of the footlights, and to hear the orchestra tuning up. And you know, while he had no engagement dad wouldn't let us take advantage of his professional privilege, and present his card at the box office."
"Yes, I know he is peculiar that way. But I shall be glad, too, to attend a play now and again. I'm getting quite rusty. I did so want to see Maude Adams when she was here. But—"
"I'd never have gone in the dress I had!" broke in Alice. "I want something pretty to wear; don't you?"
"Of course I do, dear. But with things the way they were—"
"We had to eat our prospective dresses," laughed Alice. "It was like being shipwrecked, when the sailors have to cut their boots into lengths and make a stew of them."
"Alice!" cried Ruth, rather shocked.
"It was so!" affirmed the other. "Why, you must have read of it dozens of times in those novels you're always poring over. The hero and heroine on a raft—she looks up into his eyes and sighs. 'Have another morsel of boot soup, darling!' Why, the time dad had to use the money he had half promised me for that charmeuse, and we bought the supper at the delicatessen—you know, when Mr. Blake stopped and you asked him to stay to tea, when there wasn't a thing in the house to eat—do you remember that?"
"Yes, but I don't see what it has to do with shipwrecked sailors eating their boots. Really, Alice—"
"Of course it was just the same," explained the younger girl, merrily. "There was nothing fit to give Mr. Blake, and I took the money that was to have been paid for my charmeuse, and slipped out to Mr. Dinkelspatcher's—or whatever his name is—and bought a meal. Well, we ate my dress, that's all, Ruth."
"And I wish we had it to eat over again," went on the other, with a half sigh. "I don't know what we are going to do for supper. How much have we in the purse?"
"Only a few dollars."
"And we must save that, I suppose, until dad gets some salary, which won't be for a time yet. And we really ought to celebrate in some way, now that he's had this bit of good luck! Oh, isn't it just awful to be poor!"
"Hush, Alice! The neighbors will hear you. The walls of this apartment house are so terribly thin!"
"I don't care if they do hear. They all know dad hasn't had a theatrical engagement for ever so long. And they know we haven't any what you might call—resources—or we wouldn't live here. Of course they know we're poor—that's no news!"
"I know, my dear. But you are so—so out-spoken."
"I'm glad of it. Oh, Ruth, when will you ever give up trying to pretend we are what we are not? You're a dear, nice, sweet, romantic sister, and some day I hope the Fairy Prince will come riding past on his milk-white steed—and, say, Ruth, why should a prince always ride a milk-white steed? There's something that's never been explained.
"All the novels and fairy stories have milk-white steeds for the hero to prance up on when he rescues the doleful maiden. And if there's any color that gets dirtier sooner, and makes a horse look most like a lost hope, it's white. Of course I know they can keep a circus horse milk-white, but it isn't practical for princes or heroes. The first mud puddle he splashed through—And, oh, say! If the prince should fail in his fortunes later, and have to hire out to drive a coal wagon! Wouldn't his milk-white steed look sweet then? There goes one now," and she pointed out of the window to the street below.
"Do, Ruth, if your prince comes, insist on his changing his steed for one of sober brown. It will wear better."
"Don't be silly, Alice!"
"Oh, I can't help it. Hark, is that dad's step?"
The two girls listened, turning their heads toward the hall entrance door.
"No, it's someone over at the Dalwoods'—across the corridor."
The noise in the hallway increased. There were hasty footsteps, and then rather loud voices.
"I tell you I won't have anything to do with you, and you needn't come sneaking around here any more. I'm done with you!"
"That's Russ," whispered Alice.
"Yes," agreed Ruth, and her sister noted a slight flush on her fair cheeks.
Then came a voice in expostulation:
"But I tell you I can market it for you, and get you something for it. If you try to go it alone—"
"Well, that's just what I'm going to do—go it alone, and I don't want to hear any more from you. Now you get out!"
"But look here—"
There was a sound of a scuffle, and a body crashed up against the door of the DeVere apartment.
"Oh!" cried Ruth and Alice together.
Their door swung open, for someone had seemingly caught at the knob to save himself from falling. The girls had a glimpse of their neighbor across the hall, Russ Dalwood by name, pushing a strange man toward the head of the stairs.
"Now you get out!" cried Russ, and the man left rather unceremoniously, slipping down two or three steps before he could recover his balance and grasp the railing.
"Oh, shut the door, quickly, Alice!" gasped Ruth.
RUSS DALWOOD APOLOGIZES
The portal was closed with a bang—so closed because Alice in a mad rush threw herself against it and turned the key in the lock. Then she gained a place by her sister's side, and slipped an arm about her waist.
"He—he won't come in," Alice whispered. "I saw him going down the stairs."
"Who—who was it?" faltered Ruth. She was very pale.
"I don't know," Alice made answer. "I don't believe he meant to come in here. It was—was just an accident. But the door is locked now. Maybe it was some collector—like those horrid men who have been to see us lately. The Dalwoods may be short of money, too."
"I don't think so, Alice. Russ makes good wages at the moving picture place. Oh, are you sure the door is locked?"
"Positive. Don't worry."
"Let's slip down the back stairs to Mrs. Reilley's flat. She has a telephone, and we can call the police," suggested the taller girl, in a hoarse whisper, her eyes never leaving the hall door that had been so unceremoniously thrust open.
"Silly!" returned Alice. "There's no danger now. That man has gone. I tell you I saw him hurrying down the stairs. Russ sent him about his business, all right—whatever his business was."
"Oh, it's terrible to live this way!" wailed Ruth. "With—with common fighting going on in the halls! If poor mother were alive now—"
"She wouldn't be a bit afraid, if what you tell me of her is true!" insisted Alice, stoutly. "And I'm not a bit afraid, either. Why, Russ is just across the hall, and it was only the other day you were saying how strong and manly he was. Have you forgotten?"
"No," answered Ruth, in a low voice, and again the blush suffused her cheeks.
"Then don't be a silly. I'm not going down and ask Mrs. Reilley to 'phone for the police. That would cause excitement indeed. I don't believe anyone else heard the commotion, and that was only because our door flew open by accident."
"Oh, well, maybe it will be all right," assented the taller girl who, in this emergency, seemed to lean on her younger sister. Perhaps it was because Alice was so merry-hearted—even unthinking at times; despising danger because she did not know exactly what it was—or what it meant. Yet even now Ruth felt that she must play the part of mother to her younger sister.
"Are you sure that door is locked?" she asked again.
"Positive! See, I'll slip on the chain, and then it would tax even a policeman to get in. But, really, Ruth, I wouldn't go to Mrs. Reilley's if I were you. She'll tell everyone, and there doesn't seem to be any need. It's all over, and those below, or above us, seem to have heard nothing of it."
"Oh, I wish daddy would come home!"
"So do I, for that matter. That's sensible. What did he say," asked Alice, "when you went down to Mrs. Reilley's telephone to talk to him?" For that neighbor had summoned one of the girls when she learned, over the wire, that Mr. DeVere wished to speak with his daughters about his good fortune.
"He didn't have time to say much," replied Ruth. "He just stole a minute or two away from the conference to say that he had an engagement that was very promising."
"And didn't he say when he'd be home?"
"No, only that it would be as soon as possible."
"Well, I suppose he'll come as quickly as he can. Let's see what we can get up in the way of a lunch. We may have to resort to the delicatessen again. I do want father to have something nice when he comes home with his good news."
"So do I," agreed Ruth. "I'm afraid our ice box doesn't contain much in the way of refreshments for an impromptu banquet, though, and I positively won't go out after—after what happened. At least not right away!"
"Pooh, I'm not afraid!" laughed Alice, having recovered her spirits. "On the ice box—charge!" she cried gaily, waltzing about.
The girls found little enough to reward them, and it came, finally, to the necessity of making a raid on the nearest delicatessen shop if they were to "banquet" their father.
In fact since the DeVere family had come to make their home in the Fenmore Apartment House, on one of the West Sixtieth streets of New York City, there had been very little in the way of food luxuries, and not a great deal of the necessities.
Their life had held a little more of ease and comfort when they lived in a more fashionable quarter, but with the loss of their father's theatrical engagement, and the long period of waiting for another, their savings had been exhausted and they had had recourse to the pawn shop, in addition to letting as many bills as possible go unpaid until fortune smiled again.
Hosmer DeVere, who was a middle-aged, rather corpulent and exceedingly kind and cultured gentleman, was the father of the two girls. Their mother had been dead about seven years, a cold caught in playing on a draughty stage developing into pneumonia, from which she never rallied.
Ruth and Alice came of a theatrical family—at least, on their father's side—for his father and grandfather before him had enviable histrionic reputations. Mrs. DeVere had been a vivacious country maid—or, rather, a maid in a small town that was classed as being on the "country" circuit by the company playing it. Mr. DeVere, then blossoming into a leading man, was in the troupe, and became acquainted with his future wife through the medium of the theater. She had sought an interview with the manager, seeking a chance to "get on the boards," and Mr. DeVere admired her greatly.
Their married life was much happier than the usual theatrical union, and under the guidance and instruction of her husband Mrs. DeVere had become one of the leading juvenile players. Both her husband and herself were fond of home life, and they had looked forward to the day when they could retire and shut themselves away from the public with their two little daughters.
But fortunes are seldom made on the stage—not half as often as is imagined—and the time seemed farther and farther off. Then came Mrs. DeVere's illness and death, and for a time a broken-hearted man withdrew himself from the world to devote his life to his daughters.
But the call of the stage was imperative, not so much from choice as necessity, for Mr. DeVere could do little to advantage save act, and in this alone could he make a living. So he had returned to the "boards," filling various engagements with satisfaction, and taking his daughters about with him.
Rather strange to say, up to the present, though literally saturated with the romance and hard work of the footlights, neither Ruth nor Alice had shown any desire to go on the stage. Or, if they had it, they had not spoken of it. And their father was glad.
Mr. DeVere was a clever character actor, and had created a number of parts that had won favor. He inclined to whimsical comedy roles, rather than to romantic drama, and several of his old men studies are remembered on Broadway to this day. He had acted in Shakespeare, but he had none of that burning desire, with which many actors are credited, to play Hamlet. Mr. DeVere was satisfied to play the legitimate in his best manner, to look after his daughters, and to trust that in time he might lay by enough for himself, and see them happily married.
But the laying-aside process had been seriously interrupted several times by lack of engagements, so that the little stock of savings dwindled away.
Then came a panicky year. Many theaters were closed, and more actors "walked the Rialto" looking for engagements than ever before. Mr. DeVere was among them, and he even accepted a part in a vaudeville sketch to eke out a scanty livelihood.
Good times came again, but did not last, and finally it looked to the actor as though he were doomed to become a "hack," or to linger along in some stock company. He was willing to do this, though, for the sake of the girls.
A rather longer period of inactivity than usual made a decided change in the DeVere fortunes, if one can call a struggle against poverty "fortunes." They had to leave their pleasant apartment and take one more humble. Some of their choice possessions, too, went to the sign of the three golden balls; but, with all this, it was hard work to set even their scanty table. And the bills!
Ruth wept in secret over them, being the house-keeper. And, of late, some of the tradesmen were not as patient and kind as they had been at first. Some even sent professional collectors, who used all their various wiles to humiliate their debtors.
But now a ray of light seemed to shine through the gloom, and a tentative promise from one theatrical manager had become a reality. Mr. DeVere had telephoned that the contract was signed, and that he would have a leading part at last, after many weeks of idleness.
"What is the play?" asked Alice of her sister, when they had decided on what they might safely get from the delicatessen store. "Did dad say?"
"Yes. It's 'A Matter of Friendship.' One of those new society dramas."
"Oh, I do hope he gets us tickets!"
"We will need some dresses before we can use tickets," sighed Ruth. "Positively I wouldn't go anywhere but in the gallery now."
"No, we wouldn't exactly shine in a box," agreed Alice.
"Hark!" cautioned her sister. "There's someone in the hall now. I heard a step——"
There came a knock on the door, and in spite of themselves both girls started nervously.
"That isn't his rap!" whispered Alice.
"No. Ask who it is," suggested Ruth. Somehow, she looked again to the younger Alice now.
"Who—who is it?" faltered the latter. "Maybe it's one of those horrid collectors," she went on, in her sister's ear. "I wish I'd kept quiet."
But the voice that answered reassured them.
"Are you there, Miss DeVere? This is Russ Dalwood. I want to apologize for that row outside your door a few minutes ago. It was an accident. I'm sorry. May I come in?"
THE OLD TROUBLE
For a moment the girls faced each other with wide-opened eyes, the brown ones of Alice gazing into the deep blue ones of Ruth. Ruth's eyes were not the ordinary blue—like those of a china doll. They were more like wood-violets, and in their depths could be read a liking for the unusual and romantic that was, in a measure, the key to her character. Not for nothing had Alice laughed at her sister's longing for a prince, on a milk-white steed, to come riding by. Ruth was tall, and of that desirable willowy type, so much in demand of late.
Alice was just saved from being a "bread-and-butter" girl. That is, she had wholesomeness, with a round face, and ruddy cheeks—more damask than red in color—but she also had a rollicking, good-natured disposition, without being in the least bit tomboyish. She reminded one of a girl just out of school, eager for a game of tennis or golf.
"Are you busy?" asked the voice on the other side of the door. "I can call again!"
"No, wait—Russ!" replied Ruth, with an obvious effort. "We had the chain on. We'll let you in!"
The DeVeres had only known their neighbors across the hall since coming to the Fenmore Apartment. Yet one could not live near motherly Mrs. Sarah Dalwood and not get to know her rather intimately, in a comparatively short time. She was what would have been called, in the country, "a good neighbor." In New York, with its hurry and scurry, where people live for years in adjoining rooms and never speak, she was an unusual type. She knew nearly every one in the big apartment—which was almost more than the janitor and his wife could boast.
A widow with two sons, Mrs. Dalwood was in fairly good circumstances—compared with her neighbors. Her husband had left her a little sum in life insurance that was well invested, and Russ held a place as moving picture machine operator in one of the largest of those theaters. He earned a good salary which made it unnecessary for his mother to go out to work, or to take any in, and his brother Billy was kept at school. Billy was twelve, a rather nervous, delicate lad, liked by everyone.
There was a rattle as the chain fell from the slotted slide on the door, and Alice opened the portal, to disclose the smiling and yet rather worried face of Russ. The girls had come to know him well enough to call him by his first name, and he did the same to them. It might not be out of place to say that Russ admired Ruth very much.
"I'm awfully sorry about what happened," began Russ. "You see I didn't mean to shove that fellow so hard. But he was awfully persistent, and I just lost my temper. I was afraid I'd shoved him downstairs."
"So were we," admitted Ruth, with a smile.
"Did he try to come in here, to escape from you?" asked Alice, with a frank laugh.
"Indeed he did not," replied Russ. "He caught at your door to save himself from falling. I guess he thought I was going to hit him; but I wasn't. I just shoved him away to keep him from coming back into our rooms again. Mother was a little afraid of him."
"Was he—was he a——" Alice balked at the word "collector."
"He was a fellow who's trying to steal a patent I'm working on!" exclaimed Russ, rather fiercely. "He's as unscrupulous as they come, and I didn't want him to get a foothold. So I just sent him about his business in a way I think he won't forget."
"Oh, are you working on a patent?" cried Ruth. "How nice! What's it about? Oh, I forgot! Perhaps you can't tell. It's a secret, I suppose. All patents are."
"Well, it isn't a secret from you folks," returned Russ. "I don't mind telling you, even though I haven't perfected it yet."
"Especially as you can be sure we girls wouldn't understand the least thing about it—if it has anything to do with machinery," put in Alice, laughing.
"Well, it is something about machinery," admitted Russ. "It is something new to go on moving picture machines, to steady the film as it moves behind the lens. You've often noticed how jerky the pictures are at times?" he asked.
"Yes; though we don't go very often," responded Ruth.
"Well, I've made a simple little device that fits on the machine. I needn't go into all details—to tell you the truth I haven't got 'em all worked out yet; but I think it will be a good thing, and bring me in some money.
"I've spoken to Mr. Frank Pertell, manager of the Comet Film Company, about it. I have done some work for him, you know. He says it will be a good thing, and, while it may not make me a millionaire, it will help a lot. So I'm working hard on it."
"But who was this man—what did he have to do with it?" asked Alice.
"He didn't have anything to do with it—but he wanted to. His name is Simpson Wolley—Simp, he's called for short, though he is not as simple as his name sounds. He heard about my invention—how, I don't know—and he's trying to get it away from me."
"Get it away from you?" echoed Alice.
"Yes. He came to me and wanted me to sell him the rights, just as it was, for a certain sum. I refused. Then to-day I came home unexpectedly. I found him in the room where I work, looking over my drawings and models. Mother had let him in to wait for me. She put him in the parlor, but he sneaked into my room. That's why I sent him flying."
"I don't blame you!" exclaimed Alice, with flashing eyes.
"Only I'm sorry he disturbed you," went on Russ. "I didn't mean to be quite so hasty; but he got on my nerves, I expect."
"Oh, that's all right," said Ruth, graciously.
"Mother said you might be frightened," went on the young man, "so she sent me here to tell you what it was."
"Don't mention it," laughed Alice. "We were a bit frightened at first, and we put the chain on the door. But are you sure you're all right—that he won't come back again?"
"Oh, you need not worry," Russ assured her. "He won't come here again; though I don't fancy I'm through with him. Simp Wolley hasn't much principle, and I know a lot of fellows who have done business with him to their sorrow. But he'll have to work hard to fool me. So my apology is accepted; is it?"
"Of course," laughed Ruth, blushing more than before.
Another step was heard in the hall.
"There's dad!" cried Alice. "Oh, where have you been?" she exclaimed, as she ran to her father's arms.
"I couldn't come sooner," the latter explained in his deep, mellow voice—a voice that had endeared him to many audiences. "We had to arrange about the rehearsals. Haven't you a kiss for dad, Ruth" he went on, putting his arms about the taller girl. "How are you, Russ?" and he nodded cordially. "Isn't it fine to have two such daughters as these?" He held them to him—one on either side.
"Father!" objected Ruth, blushing.
"Ha! Ashamed of her old daddy hugging and kissing her; is she?" Mr. DeVere laughed. "Well, I am surprised; aren't you, Russ? Some day——"
"Dad!" expostulated Ruth, blushing more vividly, and clapping a small hand over her father's mouth. "You mustn't say such things!"
"What things?" with a simulated look of innocent wonder.
"What you were going to say!"
"Well, as long as I didn't, no harm is done. What about lunch? I must go back this afternoon."
"I'll see you again," called Russ, retiring, for he knew father and daughters would want to exchange confidences.
"It's good news, Russ!" called Alice, as he departed across the hall. "Daddy has an engagement at last!"
"Glad to hear it, Mr. DeVere. I knew you'd land one sooner or later."
"Well, it came near being later, Russ, my boy."
"Now, Daddy dear, tell us all about it," begged Alice, when they were by themselves. "Isn't it just splendid! I wanted to get up a banquet, only there's nothing much on which to bank——"
"Alice, dear—such slang!" reproved Ruth.
"Never mind, better days are coming," said the actor. "At last I have a part just suited to me—one of the best for which I have ever been cast. It's with the 'A Matter of Friendship' company, and we open in about three weeks at the New Columbia. I feel sure I'll make a hit, and the play is a very good one—I may say a fine one."
"And you open in three weeks, you say, Dad?" asked Ruth, thoughtfully.
"Yes; or, rather, in two weeks from to-night. There are two weeks' rehearsals. But what—oh, I see. You mean there won't be any money coming in for three weeks—or until after the play has run a week. Well, never mind. I dare say we will manage somehow. I can likely get an advance on my salary. I'll see. And now for lunch. I'm as hungry as a stranded road company. What have you?"
"Not so very much," confessed Ruth. "I was hoping——"
There came a knock at the door.
"Come!" invited Mr. DeVere, and Russ appeared.
"Excuse this interruption," the young moving picture operator began, "but mother sent over to ask if you wouldn't take dinner with us. We have a big one. We expected my uncle and aunt, and they've disappointed us. Do come!"
Alice and Ruth looked at each other. Then they glanced up at their father, who regarded them thoughtfully.
"Well, I don't know," began the actor, slowly. "I—er——"
"Mother will be disappointed if you don't come," urged Russ. "She has chicken and biscuit for dinner, and she rather prides herself on it. The dinner will be spoiled if it isn't eaten hot—especially the biscuit, so she'll take it as a favor if you'll come over, and take the places of my uncle and aunt. Do come!" and he looked earnestly at Ruth.
"Well, what do you say, girls? Shall we accept of our neighbor's hospitality?" asked Mr. DeVere.
"Please do!" exclaimed Alice, in a tense whisper. "You know we haven't got a decent thing to eat in the ice box, and that delicatessen stuff——"
"Alice!" chided Ruth.
"Well, it's the truth!" insisted the merry girl, her brown eyes dancing with mischief. "Russ knows we aren't millionaires, and with papa out of an engagement so long—oh, chicken! Come on. I haven't tasted any in so long——"
"Alice—dear!" objected Ruth, sharply. "You mustn't mind her, Russ," she went on, rather embarrassed.
"I don't," he laughed. "But if you'll all come I'll promise you some of the best chicken you ever tasted. And mother's hot biscuits in the chicken gravy——"
"Don't you say another word, Russ Dalwood!" interrupted Alice. "We're coming!"
"I—I think we will," agreed Mr. DeVere, with a laugh.
Thus was his new engagement fittingly celebrated.
The memory of that chicken dinner lingered long with the DeVere family. For though there was daylight ahead there were dark and dreary days to be lived through.
As usual in theatrical companies, no salaries were paid while "A Matter of Friendship" was being rehearsed. Neither Mr. DeVere, nor any of the company, received any money for those two weeks of hard work. Those actors or actresses who had nothing put by lived as best they could on the charity of others. It was indeed "a matter of friendship" that some of them lived at all. And for a week after the play opened they could expect nothing. Then if the play should be a failure——
But no one liked to think of that.
The rehearsals went on, and the play was going to be a great success, according to Mr. DeVere. But then he always said that. What actor has not?
How he and his family lived those two weeks none but themselves knew. They had pawned all they dared, until their flat was quite bare of needed comforts. Tradesmen were insistent, and one man in particular threatened to have Mr. DeVere arrested if his bill was not paid. But it was out of the question to meet it. What little money was on hand was needed for food, and there was little enough of that.
Mr. DeVere did negotiate some small loans, but not enough to afford permanent relief. Perhaps motherly Mrs. Dalwood suspected, or Russ may have hinted at their neighbors' straits, for many a nourishing dish was sent to Ruth and Alice, on the plea that there was more of it than Mrs. Dalwood and her sons could eat.
There were more invitations from the Dalwoods to dinner or supper, but Mr. DeVere was proud, and declined, though in the most delightfully polite way.
"I—I don't see how he can refuse, when he knows we are really hungry!" sighed Alice.
"You wouldn't want him to be a beggar; would you?" flashed Ruth.
"No. But it's awfully hard; isn't it?"
"It is. Too bad they don't pay for rehearsals. And there'll be another full week! Oh, Alice, I wish there was something we could do to earn money!"
"So do I! But what is there?"
"I don't know. Oh, dear!"
They sat in the gloaming—silent, waiting for their father to come home.
"There's his step!" exclaimed Ruth, jumping up.
"Yes—but," said Alice, in puzzled, frightened tones, "it—it doesn't sound like him, somehow. How—how slowly he walks! Oh, I hope nothing has happened!"
"Happened? How could there?" asked Ruth, yet with blanched face.
The door opened, and Mr. DeVere entered. It needed but a glance at his white face to show that something had happened—something tragic—and not the tragedy of the theater.
"Oh, Father—Daddy—what is it!" cried Alice, springing to his arms.
"I—I—my——" Mr. DeVere could hardly speak, so hoarse was he. Only a husky whisper came from his lips.
"Are you—are you hurt?" cried Ruth. "Shall I get a doctor?"
"It—it's my voice!" gasped the actor. "It has gone back on me—I can't speak a word to be heard over the footlights! It's my old trouble come back!" and he sank weakly into a chair.
Startled and alarmed the two girls hastened to the side of their father. They flitted helplessly about him for a moment, like pretty, distressed birds. As for Mr. DeVere, his hand went to his aching throat as though to clutch the malady that had so suddenly gripped him, and tear it out. For none realized as keenly as he what the attack meant. It was as though some enemy had struck at his very life, for to him his voice was his only means of livelihood.
"Oh, Father!" gasped Ruth. "What is it? Speak! Tell us! What shall we do?"
"It—it's—" but his voice trailed off into a hoarse gurgle, and signs of distress and pain appeared on his face.
"Oh, tell us! Tell us!" begged Ruth, clasping her hands, her blue eyes filling with tears.
"Can't you see he can't speak!" exclaimed Alice, a bit sharply. She had a better grasp of the situation in this emergency than had her sister. "Something has happened to him! Was it dust in your throat on the street?" asked Alice. "Don't answer—wait, Dad! I have some lozenges. I'll get them for you!"
She was in and out of her room on the instant, with a box of troches, one of which she held out to her father. He had not moved since sinking into the chair, but stared straight ahead—and the future that he saw was not a pleasant one to contemplate.
"Take this, Father," begged Alice, slipping her arm about him, as she sank to the floor at his feet. "This will help your throat. Don't you remember what a terrible cold I had? These helped me a lot. Take one!"
Mr. DeVere shook his head slightly, and seemed about to refuse the lozenge. But a glance at his daughters' worried faces evidently made him change his mind. He slipped the tablet into his mouth, and then straightened up in his chair. Whatever happened to him he knew he must make a brave fight for the sake of the girls. It would not do to show the white feather before them, even though his heart was quaking with the terrible fear that had come upon him.
"What happened, Dad?" asked Ruth. "Can't you tell us? Oh, I am so worried!"
He tried to smile at her, but it was a pathetic attempt. Then, with an effort, he spoke—so hoarsely that they could barely understand him.
"It—it's my voice," he whispered, gratingly. "Some sort of affection of my vocal chords. You'd better get a doctor. I—I must be better by to-morrow."
"Poor Daddy!" whispered Ruth. "I'll go down stairs and telephone for Dr. Haldon."
"No—not him—some—some other physician. We—we haven't paid Dr. Haldon's bill," said Mr. DeVere quickly, and this time he spoke more distinctly.
"Oh, you're better!" cried Alice in delight, clapping her hands. "I knew my medicine would help you, Dad! It's good; isn't it?"
He nodded and smiled at her, but there was little of conviction in his manner, had the girls but noticed it.
"I know just how it is," went on Alice, and her tone did as much as anything to relieve the strain they were all under. "I caught cold once, and I got hoarse so suddenly that I was afraid I was going to be terribly ill. But it passed off in a day or two. Yours will, Dad!"
Mr. DeVere tried to act as though he believed it, but there was a despondent look on his face.
"I'll slip over and ask Mrs. Dalwood the name of a good doctor," offered Alice. "It's too bad we can't pay Dr. Haldon, but we will as soon as we can. Mrs. Dalwood may know of a good throat specialist nearby."
"Yes, you had better go," said Mr. DeVere in a low voice. "I must be able to go on with the rehearsals to-morrow."
Alice fairly flew across the hall, and the tragic little story was soon told. Mrs. Dalwood, fortunately, did know of a good doctor in the vicinity. He had attended Billy several times, and, while not exactly a throat specialist, was to be depended upon.
"Then I'll go downstairs and telephone for him," said Alice. "Poor daddy is so worried."
"I'll go over and see what I can do," volunteered Mrs. Dalwood. "I have an old-fashioned cough medicine I used for the children."
She took a bottle with her as she slipped across the hall to the flat of her neighbors. Russ went with her, anxious to do what he could.
But Mr. DeVere shook his head as the bottle of simple home remedy was proffered.
"Thank you very much, Mrs. Dalwood," he said hoarsely. "It is very kind of you, but I'm afraid to try it. I have had this trouble before, and——"
"You have, Father?" cried Ruth in surprise. "You never told us about it."
"I will—after the doctor comes," he said in a low voice.
Alice came back from using the telephone of the neighbor on the floor below to say that Dr. Rathby would soon be over.
"And then we'll have you all right again, Daddy!" she said, and the merry, laughing light that had disappeared came back into her eyes.
It was rather anxious waiting for the physician, but when he came his cheery, breezy presence seemed to fill them all with hope. He took Mr. DeVere into a room by himself, and made a careful examination. The girls could hear the young doctor's sharp, quick questioning, and their father's hoarse, mumbled replies. Then followed a period of nervous silence, broken by more talk.
Presently physician and patient came out Dr. Rathby looked serious, but he tried to smile. Mr. DeVere looked serious—but he did not smile. That was the difference.
"Well?" asked Ruth, with a sharp intaking of her breath.
"Nothing serious—at least, so far," was the doctor's verdict. "I think we have taken it in time. There is considerable inflammation of the vocal chords, and they have suffered a partial paralysis."
"As bad as that?" gasped Alice.
"Oh, that isn't half as bad as it sounds!" laughed Dr. Rathby. "I have had cases worse than this. Now, I'll leave you some medicine to be used in an atomizer, as a spray, Mr. DeVere, and I want you—in fact as a doctor I order you—to speak as little as possible. Don't use your voice at all, if you can help it—at least not for several days."
He turned to write a prescription, but was startled at the hoarse cry of expostulation from Mr. DeVere.
"But, doctor!" exclaimed the actor, "I—I——"
"There, now, I told you not to speak!" chided the physician, with upraised finger.
"But I have to! I'm an actor—I'm rehearsing a new part. I must use my voice! It's imperative!"
The doctor seemed startled.
"An actor," he said in low tones. "You did not tell me that. I did not understand ... Hm! Yes!"
He thought deeply for a moment.
"You could not take a rest for a week?" he asked.
"A week? No! I have been 'resting' enough weeks as it is. I must go on with this. I've had it before. It has passed away. Can't you give me something that will enable me to go on—some medicine that will act quickly? I must be at rehearsal to-morrow."
The doctor shrugged his shoulders as though to clear himself from all blame.
"Well, if you have to—you have to, I suppose," he said. "I understand. I can give you an astringent mixture that will shrink the chords, and may relieve some of the inflammation. It may enable you to go on—but at the risk of permanent injury to your throat."
"Oh!" exclaimed both girls.
"Never mind!" responded Mr. DeVere, hoarsely. "I—I must risk the future for the sake of the present. I cannot give up this engagement. I must keep on with the rehearsals. Give me something speedy, if you please, Doctor. I'll—I'll have to take the chance."
"I am sorry," spoke Dr. Rathby. "But of course I understand. I have a mixture that some singers have used with good effect. I'll try it on you. You can use it several times to-night, and on your way to rehearsal stop in at my office in the morning, and I'll swab out your throat. That may help some."
"Oh, thank you, Doctor. You don't know what this means to me. I—I feel better already."
"I'm afraid it's only temporary relief," returned the physician. "But there. Don't worry. Get that filled and see what effect it has. Then come and see me in the morning."
He wrote the prescription and hurried away, nodding to the girls.
"I'll get it filled," offered Ruth, and she could hardly keep back a sigh as she looked at the scanty supply of money in the household purse. As she was going out to the drug store she met Russ in the hallway.
"Is he any better?" the young moving picture operator asked.
"I think so," answered Ruth. "But isn't it too bad? Just when everything looked so bright."
"Oh, well, it will come out all right, I'm sure," spoke Russ. "Don't you want to come to see our show to-night? We've got some fine pictures. I'm going down a little early to get the reels in shape."
"We very seldom go to the 'movies,'" answered Ruth. "Though I have seen some I liked."
"We have some fine ones," went on Russ.
"Better come on down. I'll get you a pass in!" and he laughed genially.
"Not this time," answered Ruth gently. "I must get back and help Alice look after my father. Thank you."
She left him at the corner, and he passed on whistling softly and thinking of many things.
Mr. DeVere seemed better when Ruth got back with the medicine. And when his throat was sprayed he could talk with less effort. But his tones were still very husky, and it was evident that unless there was a great improvement in the morning he would hardly be able to go to rehearsal.
"I'm glad the show doesn't open until next week," he said with a smile. "I'd never be able to make myself heard beyond the first three rows. But I'll surely be better by the time we open."
"What did you mean by saying you had this same trouble before, Dad?" asked Alice.
"Well, it did come on me last summer, when I was taking my little vacation," he replied. "It wasn't quite as bad as this, though."
"You never told us," accused Ruth.
"No, I didn't want to worry you. It passed over, and I'm sure this will."
Mr. DeVere spoke little the next morning. Perhaps he did not want his daughters to know how very hoarse his voice was. He left for the doctor's before going to the theater, and most anxiously did the girls await his return.
"There he is!" exclaimed Ruth at length, late that afternoon.
"But he's earlier than usual!" said Alice. "I wonder——"
Mr. DeVere fairly staggered into the room. His face was white as he sank into a chair Alice pushed forward.
"Daddy!" exclaimed the girls.
He shook his head mournfully.
"It—it's no use!" he said, and they could barely make out his words. "My voice failed completely. I—I had to give up the rehearsal," and he covered his face with his hands.
For a few moments the two girls said nothing. They simply stood there, looking at their father, who was bowed with grief. It was something new for him—a strange role, for usually he was so jolly and happy—going about reciting odd snatches from the plays in which he had taken part.
"Does—does it hurt you, Daddy?" asked Ruth softly, as she stepped closer to him, and put her hand on his shoulder.
He raised himself with an effort, and seemed to shake off the gloom that held him prisoner.
"No—no," he answered in queer, croaking tones, so different from his usual deep and vibrant ones. "That's the odd part of it. I have no real pain. It isn't sore at all—just a sort of numbness."
"Did it come on suddenly?" asked Alice.
"Well, it did yesterday—very suddenly. But this time I was hoarse when I started to rehearse and it kept getting worse until I couldn't be heard ten feet away. Of course it was no use to go on then, so the stage manager called me off."
"Then he'll wait until you're better?" asked Alice.
Her father shrugged his shoulders.
"He'll wait until to-morrow, at any rate," was the hesitating answer.
"Didn't going to the doctor's office help any?" asked Ruth.
"For a few minutes—yes. But as soon as I got to the theater I was as bad as ever. I had some of his spray with me, too, but it did little good. I think I must see him again. I'll go to his office now."
"No, he must come here!" insisted Ruth. "You shouldn't take any chances going out in the air, Father, even though it is a warm spring day. Let him come here. I'll go telephone."
She was out into the hall before he could remonstrate, had he had the energy to do it. But Mr. DeVere seemed incapable of thinking for himself, now that this trouble had come upon him.
Dr. Rathby came a little later. He had a cheery, confident air that was good for the mind, if not for the body.
"Well, how goes it?" he asked.
"Not—very well," was Mr. DeVere's hoarse reply.
"I'm afraid you'll have to do as I suggested and take a complete rest," went on the doctor. "That's the only thing for these cases. I'll take another look at you."
The examination of the throat was soon over.
"Hum!" mused the physician. "Well, Mr. DeVere, I can tell you one thing. If you keep on talking and rehearsing, you won't have any voice at all by the end of the week."
"Oh!" cried the girls, together.
"Now, don't be frightened," went on the doctor quickly, seeing their alarm. "This may not be at all serious. There is a good chance of Mr. DeVere getting his voice back; but I confess I see little hope of it at the present time. At any rate he must give himself absolute rest, and not use his voice—even to talk to you girls," and he smiled at them.
"I know that is going to be hard," the doctor went on; "but it must be done sir, it must be done."
"Impossible!" murmured Mr. DeVere. "It cannot be!"
"It must be, my dear sir. Your vocal chords are in such shape that the least additional strain may permanently injure them. As it is now—you have a chance."
"Only a chance did you say?" asked the actor, eagerly.
"Yes, only a chance. It would be cruel to deceive you, and try to tell you that this is only temporary, and will pass off. It may, but it is sure to come back again, unless you give your throat an absolute rest."
"For—for how long?"
"I can't say—six months—maybe a year—maybe——"
"A year! Why, Doctor, I never could do that."
"You may have to. You can speak now, but if you keep on you will get to the point where you will be next to absolutely dumb!"
The girls caught their breaths in sharp gasps. Even Mr. DeVere seemed unnerved.
"It may seem harsh to say this to you," went on Dr. Rathby, "but it is the kindest in the end. Rest is what you need."
"Then I can't go to rehearsal in the morning?"
"Certainly not. I must forbid it as your physician. Can't you get a few days off?"
Mr. DeVere shook his head.
"Aren't there such things as understudies? Seems to me I have heard of them," persisted the physician.
"I—I wouldn't like to have to put one on," said the actor.
His daughters knew the reason. Times were but little better than they had been in the theatrical business. Many good men and women, too, were out of engagements, and every available part was quickly snapped up. Mr. DeVere had waited long enough for this opening, and now to have to put on an understudy when the play was on the eve of opening, might mean the loss of his chances. Theatrical managers were uncertain at best, and an actor in an important part, with a voice that would not carry beyond the first few rows, was out of the question.
Mr. DeVere knew this as well as did his daughters.
"I'll tell you what I'll do," went on Dr. Rathby. "I'll speak to your manager myself. I'll explain how things are, and say it is imperative that you have one or two days of rest. It may be that your chords will clear up enough in that time so that I can treat them better and you can resume your duties."
"Will you do that?" cried the actor, eagerly. "It will be awfully good of you. Just say to Mr. Gans Cross—he's the manager of the New Columbia theater—that I will be back in two days—less, if you will allow me, Doctor."
The physician shook his head.
"It must be at least two days," he said, and he went off to telephone, promising to come back as soon as he could.
He did return, later in the evening, with a new remedy of which he said he had heard from a fellow doctor.
"What did Mr. Cross say?" Mr. DeVere asked eagerly.
"I have good news for you. He agreed to use an understudy for two days. He said you were letter-perfect in the part, anyway, and it was the others who really needed the rehearsing. So now we have two full days in which to do our best. And in that time I want you to talk the deaf and dumb language," laughed Dr. Rathby.
Mr. DeVere eagerly promised.
Then began a two-days' warfare against the throat ailment. Ruth and Alice were untiring in attendance on their father. They saw to it that he used the medicine faithfully, and they even got pads and pencils that he might write messages to them instead of speaking.
On his part the actor was faithful. He did not use his voice at all, and on the second day Dr. Rathby said there was some improvement. He was not very enthusiastic, however, and when Mr. DeVere asked if he could attend rehearsals next day the doctor said:
"Well, it's a risk, but I know how you feel about it. You may try it; but, frankly, I am fearful of the outcome."
"I—I've got to try," whispered Mr. DeVere.
He went to the rehearsal, and the worst fears of the physician were realized. After the first act Mr. DeVere was hoarser than ever before. The other players could not hear him to get their "cues," or signals when to reply, and come on the stage. The rehearsal had to be stopped. There was a hasty conference between the manager of the company and the treasurer of the same.
"The play will have to open on time," said the manager.
"Yes, we've had a big advance sale," replied the treasurer.
"And DeVere can't do it."
"No. I'll have to put his understudy in until we can cast someone else. I'll tell him."
The actor must have guessed what was coming, for he was washing off his make-up in the dressing-room when the manager entered.
"I'm awfully sorry about this, DeVere," began Mr. Cross. "But I'm afraid you won't be able to go on Monday night."
"No, Mr. Cross, I myself am of the same opinion. My voice has failed me utterly."
"And yet—and yet—you understand how it is. We must open on time."
"Yes, I know. The show must go on—the show must go on."'
"And the only way——"
"Is to replace me. I know. You can't help it, Mr. Cross. I know just how it is. It isn't your fault—it's my misfortune. I thank you for your patience. You'll have to—to replace me. It's the only thing to do. And yet," he added so softly that the manager did not hear "what am I to do? What are my daughters to do?"
A NEW PROPOSITION
There was no need for Ruth and Alice to ask their father what had happened. One look at his ashen face when he came home from the theater was enough.
"Oh, Daddy!" cried Alice. "Couldn't you make it go?"
He answered with a shake of the head. The strain of the rehearsal had pained him.
"Did—did they put in someone else?" asked Ruth.
"Yes, I'm out of it for good—at least for this engagement."
"The mean things!" burst out Alice "I think that Mr. Cross is rightly named. I wish I could tell him so, too!"
"Alice!" reproved Ruth, gently.
"I don't care!" cried the younger girl, her brown eyes sparkling. "The idea of not waiting a few days with their show until papa was better; and he the leading man, too."
"They couldn't wait, Alice, my dear," explained Mr. DeVere. "Cross did all he could for me, and allowed me two days. But it is out of the question. Dr. Rathby was right. I need a long rest—and I guess I'll have to take it whether I want to or not."
Then, seeing the anxious looks on the faces of his daughters, he went on, in more cheerful, though in no less husky tones:
"Now don't worry, girls. There'll be some way out of this. If I can't act I can do something else. I'm well and strong, for which I must be thankful. I'm not ill and, aside from my voice, nothing is the matter. I'll look for a place doing something else beside stage work, until my voice is restored. Then I'll take up my profession again. Come, there is nothing to worry about."
There was—a-plenty; but he chose to ignore it for the time being. He knew, as well as did the girls, that there was little money left, and that pressing bills must soon be met. Added to them, now, would be one from the physician and Mr. DeVere would need more medical attention.
"I'm going to start out, the first thing in the morning, and look for a place," went on the actor.
"Oh, but you must be careful of your voice," said Alice. "If you don't you may harm it permanently."
"Oh I'll be careful," her father promised. "I'll take along a pad and pencil, and pretend to be dumb. But I'll speak if it's absolutely necessary. Now that there is no particular object in holding myself for the place in 'A Matter of Friendship,' and with the strain of rehearsal over, I won't be so afraid of talking. Yes, in the morning I'll start out."
"I wish we could start out," said Alice to Ruth in the latter's room, later that night. "Why can't we do something to earn money?"
"We may have to—if it comes to that," agreed Ruth. "There are some bills that must be paid or——"
"Or what, Sister?"
"Never mind, don't you worry. Perhaps it will come out all right, after all. Father may get a place. He knows many persons in the theatrical business, and if he can't get behind the footlights he may get a place in front—in the box office, or something like that."
"Fancy poor father, with all his talents as an actor, taking tickets, though!"
"Well, it will be a humiliation, of course," agreed Ruth. "But what can be done? We have to live."
"Oh, if only I were a boy!" cried Alice, with a flash of her brown eyes. "I'd do something then!"
"What would you do?" asked Ruth.
"I—I'd turn the crank of a moving picture machine if I couldn't get anything else to do. Look at Russ—he earns good money at the business."
"Yes, I know. But we can't be boys, Alice."
"No—more's the pity. But I'm going to do something!"
"What, Alice? Nothing rash, I hope," said the older sister, quickly. "You know father—"
"Oh, don't worry. I won't cause any sensation. But I'm going to do something. There's no use in two strong, healthy girls sitting around, and letting poor old daddy, with a voice like a crow's, doing all the work and worrying."
"No, I agree with you, and if there is anything I could do I'd do it."
"That's it!" exclaimed Alice, petulantly. "Girls ought to be brought up able to do something so they could earn their living if they had to, instead of sitting around doing embroidery or tinkling on the piano. I wouldn't know even how to clerk in a store if I had to."
"I hope you won't have to, Alice."
"So do I. I shouldn't like it, but there are worse things than that. I know what I am going to do, though."
"I'm going to look through the advertisements in the paper to-morrow, and start out after the most promising places."
"Well, what else is there to be done?" asked the younger girl, fiercely. "We've got to live. We've got to have a place to stay, and we've got to pay the bills that are piling up. Can you think of anything else to do?"
"No, but something may—turn up."
"I'm not going to wait for it. I'm not like Mr. Micawber. I'm going out and turn up something for myself. There's one thing I can do, and that's manicure. I could get a place at that, maybe," and Alice looked at her pretty and well-kept nails, while Ruth glanced at her own hands.
"Yes, dear, you do that nicely. But isn't it—er—rather common?"
"All work is 'common,' I suppose. It's also common to starve—but I'm not going to do it if I can help it. Good-night!" and she flounced into her own room.
"Oh, dear!" sighed Ruth. "I wish Alice were not so—so lively" and she cried softly before she fell asleep.
Mr. DeVere was up early the next morning. He seemed more cheerful, though his voice, if anything, was hoarser and more husky than ever.
"Here's where I start out to seek my fortune!" he said raspingly, though cheerfully, after a rather scanty breakfast. "I'll come back with good news—never fear!"
He kissed the girls good-bye, and went off with a gay wave of his hand.
"Brave daddy!" murmured Ruth.
"Yes, he is brave," said Alice "and we've got to be brave, too."
"Where are you going?" asked Ruth, as she saw her sister dressing for the street.
"Out where? I must know."
"Well, if you must, I'm going to make the rounds of the manicuring parlors."
"Oh, Alice, I hate to have you do it. Some of those places where men go——"
"I'm only going to apply at the ladies' parlors."
"Oh, well, I—I suppose it's the only thing to do."
"And if worse comes to worst!" cried Alice, gaily, "I'll get some orange-sticks and we'll stew them for soup. It can't be much worse than boot-leg consomme."
"Oh, Alice!" cried Ruth. "You are hopeless."
"Hopeless—but not—helpless! Auf Wiedersehen!"
But in spite of her gay laugh as she closed the hall door after her, Alice DeVere's face wore a look of despondency. She knew how little chance she stood in New York—in big New York.
And perhaps it was this despondent look that caused Russ Dalwood to utter an exclamation as he met her down at the street door of the apartment house.
"What's the matter?" Alice replied to his startled ejaculation. "Is my hat on crooked; or did one of my feathers get into your eye? Foolish styles; aren't they?"
"No—nothing like that; only you looked—say, Alice, has anything happened?"
"Yes, Russ, there is something the matter," replied Alice, frankly. "Do you know of anybody who wants a young lady to do anything—that a young lady, such as I, could do?"
"I'm serious," she said, and a glance at her pretty face confirmed this. There was a resolute look in her brown eyes.
"Are you looking for work?" Russ asked.
"I am. I was thinking of trying to be a manicurist——"
He made a gesture of disapproval.
"Well, what can I do? I must do something. Poor daddy's voice has failed utterly. He can't take his new part in the play unless he does it in pantomime, and I'm afraid that would hardly be the thing. He simply can't speak his lines, though he can act them."
"That's too bad," said Russ, sympathetically.
"So they had to get another actor in his place," went on Alice, "and poor father has started out to look for something else to do. That's my errand this morning, also."
Russ was in deep thought for a moment. Then he exclaimed:
"I have it!"
"What? A place for me?" demanded Alice. "Tell me at once, and I'll hurry there."
"No, Alice, not a place for you; but a place for your father. You say he can't speak, but he can act?"
"Then the movies is the very place for him! He won't have to say a word—just move his lips. He can act parts in photoplays as well as if he never had a voice. I just thought of it. It will be the very thing he can do. Say, I'm glad I met you. We must get busy with this at once.
"Come on! I'm on my way now to see about my new patent, and I can take you to the manager of the film company. I know him well. I'm sure he'll give your father a place in the company, and it pays well. If Mr. DeVere can't act at the New Columbia he can in the movies! Come on!"
ALICE CHANGES HER MIND
Filled with enthusiasm over his new project for aiding Mr. DeVere, Russ Dalwood caught Alice by the hand, and guided her steps with his. She had been about to turn off at a corner, to carry out her intention of seeking employment in one of the many manicure parlors on a certain street. Now she hesitated.
"Well," asked Russ, impatiently, "don't you like the idea?"
"Oh, it's fine—it's splendid of you!" Alice replied, with fervor, "but you know——"
She hesitated, her cheeks taking on a more ruddy hue. There was an uncertain look in her brown eyes.
"Well, what?" asked Russ, smilingly. "Surely you don't mind going with me to the manager's office? It's a public place. Lots of girls go there, looking for engagements."
"Oh, no, it isn't that!" she hastened to assure him.
"Or, if you don't like going with me, I can give you a note to Mr. Pertell, the manager. I know him quite well, as I've been negotiating with him about my patent."
"Oh, Russ, you know it isn't that!" she exclaimed.
"And, if you like, we'll go back and get Ruth. Maybe that would be better!" he exclaimed eagerly, and as Alice looked into his honest gray eyes she read his little secret, and smiled at him understandingly.
"Oh, never that!" she cried gaily. "Ruth would be the last one in the world to be let into this secret, until it is more assured of success. Besides, I guess when you walk with Ruth you don't want me," she challenged.
"Oh, now——" he began.
"That's all right. I understand," she laughed at him. "No, we won't tell Ruth."
"Then you'll go and see the manager—I know he'll give your father a trial, and that's all that's needed, for I'm sure he can do the acting. And they're always looking for new characters. Come on!"
Once more, in his enthusiasm, he tried to lead her down the street. But she hung back.
"No, really, Russ," she said earnestly enough now, and her eyes took on a more grave and serious look. "It isn't that. It's only—well, I might as well tell you, though it may be rather mean after your kindness. But my father thinks the movies are so—so vulgar! There—I've said it."
She looked at her companion anxiously. To her surprise Russ laughed.
"So, you were afraid of hurting my feelings; were you?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered, in a low voice.
"Nothing like that!" he assured her. "I've heard worse things than that said about the movies. But I want to tell you that you're wrong, and, with all due respect to him, your father is wrong too. There's nothing vulgar or low about the movies—except the price."
He was becoming really enthusiastic now. His voice rang, and his eyes sparkled.
"I'm not saying that because I make my living at them, either," Russ went on. "It's because it's true. The moving picture shows were once, perhaps, places where nice persons didn't go. But it's different now. All that has been changed. Why, look at Sarah Bernhardt, doing her famous plays before the camera? Even Andrew Carnegie consented to give one of his speeches in front of the camera, with a phonograph attachment, the other day."
"Did he, really?" cried Alice.
"He certainly did. And a lot of the best actors and actresses in this and other countries aren't ashamed to be seen in the movies. They're glad to do it, and glad to get the money, too, I guess," he added, with a grin.
"I think it would be the very thing for your father. Of course, if his voice had held out he might like it better to be an actor on the real stage. But in the movies he won't have to talk. He'll just have to act. Then, when his voice gets better, as I hope it will, he can take up the legitimate again."
"Oh, I know his heart is set on that!" exclaimed Alice.
"But don't you think he'd consider this?" asked Russ. He was very anxious to help—Alice could tell that.
"I—I'm afraid he wouldn't," confessed the girl. "He thinks the movies too common. I know, for I've heard him say so many times."
"They're not common!" defended Russ, sturdily. "The moving pictures are getting better and better all the while. Of course some poor films are shown, but they're gradually being done away with. The board of censorship is becoming more strict.
"Common! Why do you know that it costs as much as $20,000, sometimes, to stage one of the big plays—one with lots of outdoor scenes in it, burning buildings, railroad accidents made to order, and all that."
"Really?" cried Alice, her eyes now shining with excitement.
"That's right!" exclaimed Russ. "I'm just at the beginning of the business. I've learned the projecting end of it so far. Almost anyone can put the film in the machine, switch on the light, get the right focus and turn the handle. But it's harder to film a real drama with lots of excitement in it—outdoor stuff—cattle stampeded—the sports of cowboys—a fake Indian fight; it takes lots of grit to stand up in front of an oncoming troop of horsemen, and snap them until they get so close you can see the whites of their eyes. Then if they turn at the right time—well and good. But if there's a slip, and they ride into you—good-night! Excuse my slang," he added, hastily.
"Did that ever happen?" she asked, eagerly.
"Well, if not that, something near enough like it. I've heard the operators—those who take the negatives—tell of 'em many a time. That's what I'm going to be soon—a taker of the moving picture plays instead of just projecting them on the screen. Mr. Pertell has promised to give me a chance. He's organizing some new companies.
"Just as soon as I get my patent perfected he's promised to put it on his machines. Then I'm going with his company."
"Did you hear any more about that man you say tried to steal your invention?" asked Alice.
"Who, Simp Wolley? Oh, yes, he's been sneaking around after me, and I told him what I thought of him. He's got another fellow in with him—Bud Brisket—and he's about the same type. But I'm not going to worry about it."
"Don't be too confident," warned Alice. "I've heard of many inventors whose patents were gotten away from them."
"Thanks, I'll be careful. But just now I'm interested in getting your father to take up this work. I know he'll like it, once he tries it. Won't you come and see the manager? I'm sure he'll give your father a trial."
Alice stood in deep thought for a moment. Then with a little gesture, as though putting the past behind her, she exclaimed:
"Yes, Russ, I will, and I thank you! I told Ruth I was going to do something, and I am. If father can get an engagement I won't have to go to work. Not that I'm ashamed to work—I love it!" she added hastily. "But I wouldn't like to be a public manicurist, and that's the only situation that seemed open to me. I will go see your manager, Russ, and I'll do my best to get father to take up this work. It's quite different from what I thought it was."
"I knew you'd say that," chuckled Russ. "Come on."
"What would Ruth say if she saw me now?" Alice asked, as she and Russ walked off together. "She would certainly think I was defying all conventionality."
"Don't worry." Russ advised her. "It's the sensible thing to do. And I'll explain to Ruth, too."
"Oh, I believe you could explain to anyone!" Alice declared with enthusiasm. "You've made it so clear and different to me. But how do they make moving pictures?"
"You'll soon see," he answered. "We're going to one of the film studios now. This is about the time they begin to make the scenes. It's very interesting."
Soon they found themselves before a rather bare brick building. It had nothing of the look of a theater about it. There were no gaudy lithographs out in front, no big frames with the pictures of the actors and actresses, or of scenes from the plays. There was no box office—no tiled foyer. It might have been a factory. Alice's face must have shown the surprise she felt, for Russ said:
"This is where the films are made. It's all business here. They make the inside scenes here—anything from the interior of a miner's shack to a ballroom in a king's palace. Of course, for outside scenes they go wherever the scenery best suits the story of the play. And here the film negatives are developed, and duplicate positives made for the projecting machines. This is Mr. Pertell's principal factory."
"Fancy a play-factory!" exclaimed Alice.
"That's exactly what it is—a play-factory," agreed Russ. "Come on in."
If Alice was surprised at the exterior appearance of the building the interior was more bewildering. They passed rapidly through the departments devoted to the mechanical end of the business—where the films were developed and printed. Russ promised to show her more of that later.
"We'll go right up to the theatre studio," he said.
Alice looked about the big room, that seemed filled with all sorts of scenery, parts of buildings, rustic bridges—in short, all sorts of "props." She had been behind the scenes often in some of the plays in which her father took part, so this was not startlingly new to her. Yet it was different from the usual theatre.
And such strange "business" seemed going on. There were men and women going through plays—Alice could tell that, but the odd part of it was that in one section of the room what seemed a tragedy in a mountain log cabin was being enacted; while, not ten feet away, was a parlor scene, showing men in evening dress, and women in ball costumes, gliding through the mazes of a waltz. Next to this was a scene representing a counterfeiter's den in some low cellar, with the police breaking through the door with drawn revolvers, to capture the criminals.
And in front of these varied scenes stood a battery of queer cameras—moving picture cameras, looking like flat fig boxes with a tube sticking out, and a handle on one side, at which earnest-faced young men were vigorously clicking.
And, off to one side, stood several men in their shirt sleeves superintending the performances. They gave many directions.
"No, not that way! When you faint, fall good and hard, Miss Pennington!"
"Hurry now, Mr. Switzer; get in some of that funny business! Look funny; don't act as though this was your funeral!"
"Come on there Mr. Bunn; this isn't 'Hamlet.' You needn't stalk about that way. There's no grave in this!"
"Hold on, there! Cut that part out. Stop the camera; that will have to be done over. There's no life in it!"
And so it went on, in the glaring light that filtered in through the roof, composed wholly of skylights, while a battery of arc lamps, in addition, on some of the scenes, poured out their hissing glare to make the taking of the negatives more certain.
Alice was enthralled by it all. She stood close to Russ's side, clasping his arm. Many of the men engaged in taking the pictures knew the young operator, and nodded to him in friendly fashion, as they hurried about. Some of the actors and actresses, too, bowed to the young fellow and smiled. He seemed a general favorite.
"Isn't it wonderful?" whispered Alice. "I had no idea the making of a moving picture was anything like this!"
"I thought you'd change your mind," replied Russ, with a laugh. "But you haven't seen half of it yet. Here comes Mr. Pertell now. I'll speak to him about your father."
"PAY YOUR RENT, OR——"
Alice liked the appearance of Mr. Pertell, manager of the Comet Film Company, from her first glimpse of him. He seemed so sturdy, kind and wholesome. He was in his shirt sleeves, and his clothing was in almost as much disorder as his ruffled hair. But there was a kindly gleam in his snapping eyes, and a firm look about his mouth that showed his character.
"Oh, Mr. Pertell, can you spare a moment?" Russ called to him.
"Oh, hello, Russ; is that you?" was the cordial greeting. "How is the patent? I could use it if I had it now. Spare a minute? Yes, several of 'em. They've spoiled that one act and it's got to be done over. I don't see why they can't do as they're told instead of injecting a lot of new business into the thing! I've got to sit still and do nothing now for ten minutes while they fix that scene up over again. Go ahead, Russ—what can I do for you?"
He sat down on an overturned box, and motioned for Russ and Alice to occupy adjoining ones. Clearly there was not much ceremony about this manager. He was like others Alice had observed behind the scenes in real theatres, except that he did not appear so irascible.
"This is Miss Alice DeVere," began Russ, "and she has come to you about her father. He has lost his voice, and she and I think he might fit in some of your productions, where you don't need any talking."
"Yes, sometimes the less talking in the movies the better," agreed Mr. Pertell. "But you do need acting. Can your father act, Miss?"
"He is Hosmer DeVere," broke in Russ. "He was with the New Columbia Theatre Company. They were to open in 'A Matter of Friendship,' but Mr. DeVere's throat trouble made him give it up."
"Hosmer DeVere! Yes, I've heard of him, and I've seen him act. So he wants an engagement here; eh?"
"Oh, it isn't exactly that!" interrupted Alice, eagerly. "He—he doesn't know a thing about it yet."
"He doesn't know about it?" repeated the manager, wonderingly.
"No. He—I—Oh, perhaps you'd better tell him, Russ," she finished.
"I will," Russ agreed, with a smile. And, while Alice looked at some of the other dramas being enacted before the clicking eyes of the cameras, her companion told how it had been planned to overcome the prejudice of Mr. DeVere and get him to try his art with the "movies."
Alice was tremendously interested, and looked on with eager eyes as the actors and actresses enacted their roles. Some of them spoke, now and then, as their lines required it, for it has been found that often audiences can read the lips of the players on the screen. But there was no need for any loud talking—in fact, no need of any at all—whispering would have answered. Indeed some actors find that they can do better work without saying a word—merely using gestures. Others, who have long been identified with the legitimate drama, find it hard to break away from the habit of years and speak their lines aloud.
"Oh, I'm sure father would like this," thought Alice. "And he wouldn't have to use his poor throat at all. I must tell him all about it."
She looked at two girls—they did not seem much older than herself and Ruth, who were playing a scene in a "society" drama. They were both pretty, but Alice thought they were rather too flippant in manner when out of the scene. They laughed and joked with the other actors, and with the machine men.
But the latter were too busy focusing their cameras, and getting all that went on in the scenes, to pay much attention to anything else. The least slip meant the spoiling of many feet of film, and while this in itself was not so expensive, it often meant the making of a whole scene over again at a great cost.
"Well," Mr. Pertell said at length, "I am greatly interested in Mr. DeVere. I know him to be a good actor, and I greatly regret his affliction. I think I can use him in some of these plays. Can he ride a horse—does he know anything about cowboy life, or miners?" he asked Alice.
"Oh, I'm sure daddy wouldn't want to do any outdoor plays," the girl exclaimed. "He is so used to theatrical scenes."
"Well, I might keep him in "parlor" drama," Mr. Pertell remarked. "Please tell him to come and see me," he went on. "I would like to talk to him."
"Thank you, so much!" returned Alice, gratefully. "I shall tell him, and—well, there's no use saying I'm sure he'll come," she went on with a shrug of her shoulders. "It's going to be rather difficult to break this to him. It—it's so—different from what he has been used to."
"I can understand," responded Mr. Pertell. "But I think if he understood he would like it. Tell him to come here and see how we do things."
"I will!" Alice promised.
Russ escorted her to the street, and then, as he had to see about some changes in the working of his proposed patent, he bade her good-bye. She said she would find her way home all right.
"Well?" asked Ruth, as Alice entered the apartment a little later, "did you do anything rash?"
"Perhaps!" Alice admitted, as she took off her hat, jabbed the pins in it and tossed it to one chair, while she sank into another.
"Oh, Alice! You—aren't going to be one of those—manicures; are you?"
"I hope not, though there are lots worse things. A manicure can be just as much a lady as a typist. But, Ruth, I have such news for you! I have found an engagement for dad!"
"An engagement for daddy?"
"Yes. In the movies! Listen. Oh, it was so exciting!"
Then, with many digressions, and in rather piece-meal manner, interrupting herself often to go back and emphasize some point she had forgotten, Alice told of her morning trip with Russ. She enlarged on the manner in which the moving pictures were made, until Ruth grew quite excited.
"Oh, I wish I could see how it is done!" she cried.
"You may—when dad takes this engagement," said Alice.
"He never will," declared her sister. "You know what he thinks of the movies."
"But he thinks wrong!" exclaimed Alice. "It's so different from what I thought."
"He'll never consent," repeated Ruth. "Hark! Here he comes now. Perhaps he has found something to do."
Footsteps were heard coming along the hallway. Alice glanced at the table before which her sister was sitting.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Looking over our bills, and trying to make five dollars do the work of fifteen," answered Ruth, with a wry smile. "Money doesn't stretch well," she added.
Mr. DeVere came in. It needed but a look at his face to show that he had been unsuccessful, but Ruth could not forbear asking:
"No good news," he answered, hoarsely. "I could hardly make myself understood, and there seem few places where one can labor without using one's voice. I never appreciated that before."
"But I have found a place!" cried Alice, with girlish enthusiasm. "I have a place for you Daddy, where you won't have to speak a word."
"Where—where is it?" he whispered, and they both noted his pitiful eagerness.
"In the movies!" Alice went on. "Oh, it's the nicest place! I've been there, and the manager——"
"Not another word!" exclaimed Mr. DeVere. "I never would consent to acting in the moving pictures. I would not so debase my profession—a profession honored by Shakespeare. I never would consent to it. The movies! Never!"
There was a knock at the door.
"I'll see who it is," offered Ruth, with a sympathetic glance at Alice, who seemed distressed. Then, as Ruth saw who it was, she drew back. "Oh!" she exclaimed, helplessly.
"Who is it?" asked Mr. DeVere, rising.
"I've come for the rent!" exclaimed a rasping voice. "This is about the tenth time, I guess. Have you got it?" and a burly man thrust himself into the room from the hall.
"The rent—Oh!" murmured Mr. DeVere, helplessly. "Let me see; have we the rent ready, Ruth?"
"No," she answered, with a quick glance at the table where she had been going over the accounts, and where a little pile of bills lay. "No, we haven't the rent—to-day."
"And I didn't expect you'd have it," sneered the man. "But I've come to tell you this. It's either pay your rent or——" He paused significantly and nodded in the direction of the street.
"Three days more—this is the final notice," and thrusting a paper into the nerveless hand of Mr. DeVere, the collector strode out.
MR. DEVERE DECIDES
Mr. DeVere sank into a chair. Ruth looked distressed as her father glanced over the dispossess notice, for such it was. But on the face of Alice there was a triumphant smile. For she saw that this was the very thing needed to arouse her father to action. Despite the distastefulness of the work, she felt sure he would come finally to like acting before the camera.
The collector's call had been very opportune, though it was embarrassing.
"This—this," said Mr. DeVere, haltingly—"this is very—er—very unfortunate. Then we are behind with the rent, Ruth?"
"Yes, Dad. You know I told you——"
"Yes, I suppose so," he added, with a sigh. "I had forgotten. There have been so many things——"
He was lost in thought for a moment.
"Do we owe much more, Ruth?" he asked.
"Quite some, Daddy. But don't worry. You are not well, and——"
"No, I am not well. I feel very poorly, but it is mainly mental, and not physical—except for my throat. And even that does not really hurt. It is only—only that I cannot speak."
His voice trailed off into a hoarse whisper, which the girls could barely distinguish.
"I—I must find something to do," went on the stricken actor. "I'll go out again this afternoon. Let us have a little lunch and I will try again. I'll do anything——"
"Then, Daddy, why don't you let me tell about the moving pictures?" broke in Alice. "I'm sure——"
"Alice, dear, you know that isn't in my line," replied her father. "It is very good of you to suggest it; but it will not do. I could not bring myself to it——"
He paused, and looked dejectedly at the dispossess notice in his hand.
"I—I could not do it," he added with a sigh. "I must try to get something in the line of my profession. Perhaps I might get a place in some dramatic school. I have trained you girls in the rudiments of acting, and I'm sure I could do it with a larger class. I did not think of it before. Get me some lunch, Ruth, and I'll go out again."
"But what about the rent?" asked Alice. "We can't be put out on the street, Dad."
"No, I suppose not. I'll see Mr. Cross, and get another loan. I'll pay him back out of my first salary. We must have a roof over us. Oh, girls, I am so sorry for you!"
"Don't worry about us, Daddy! You just get better and take care of your throat!" urged Alice. "You might try the movies, just for a little while, and then——"
"Never! Never!" he interrupted with vigor. "I could not think of it!"
Again there came a knock at the door.
"I'll go," offered Alice.
"No, let me," said Ruth, quickly.
She slipped out into the hall, and closed the door after her. There was a low murmur of voices, gradually growing louder on the part of the unseen caller. Ruth seemed pleading. Then Mr. DeVere and Alice heard:
"It's no use. The boss says he won't send around any more meat until the bill is paid. He told me to tell you he couldn't wait any longer—that's all there is to it!"
"Oh!" 'said Alice, in a low voice.
"What does that mean?" asked Mr. DeVere, from the reverie into which he had fallen.
"I think it means," replied Alice, with a laugh in which there was little mirth, "think it means that we won't have any meat for lunch, Dad."
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the actor.
Ruth came in with flushed face.
"Who was it?" asked her father, though there was no need.
"Only the butcher's boy. He said——"
"We heard," interrupted Alice, significantly. "Have we any eggs?" she asked, grimly.
"This—this is positively too much!" said Mr. DeVere. "I shall tell that meat man——"
"I'm afraid he wouldn't listen to you, Daddy," interposed Ruth, gently. "We do owe him quite a bill. I suppose we can't blame him," and she sighed.
"I—I'll go at once and see Mr. Cross, my former manager," exclaimed Mr. DeVere. "He will make me a loan, I'm sure. Then I'll pay this butcher bill, and tell the insulting fellow that we shall seek a new tradesman."
"Then there's the rent, Daddy," said Ruth, in a low voice.
"Oh, yes—the rent. I forgot about that." The dispossess notice rustled in his hand. "The rent—Oh, yes. That must be paid first. I—I will have to get a larger loan. Well, get me what lunch you can, Ruth, my dear, and I'll go out at once."
Alice did not say "movies" again, not even when the very modest and frugal lunch was set. And it was about the "slimmest" meal, from a housekeeper's standpoint, that had ever graced the DeVere table, used as they had become to scanty rations of late. Mr. DeVere said little, but he appeared to be doing considerable thinking and Alice allowed him to do it without interruption. She seemed to know how, and when, to hold her tongue.
When he had gone out Ruth and Alice talked matters over. First they counted up what money they had, and figured how far it would go. If they paid the rent they would not have enough to live on for a week, and food was almost as vital a necessity as was a place to stay. There were other pressing bills, in addition to those of the butcher and the landlord.
"Don't you see, Ruth, that daddy's going into the movies will be our only salvation?" asked Alice.
"It does seem so. Yet could he do it?"
"He could—if he would. I saw some very poor actors there to-day."
"But is the pay sufficient?"
"It is very good, Russ says. And it increases with the fame of the actor. I wish I could get into the movies myself."
"I don't care; I do! It's just lovely, I think. You don't have to act before a whole big audience that is staring at you. Just some nice men, in their shirt sleeves, turning cranks——"
"In their shirt sleeves?"
"Why, yes. It's quite warm, with all those arc lights glowing, you know. And besides, what are shirt sleeves? Didn't dad act in his during the duel scene in "Lord Graham's Secret?" Of course he did! Shirt sleeves are no disgrace. Oh, Ruth, what are we to do, anyhow? What is to become of us?"
Alice put her head down on the table.
"There, dear, don't cry," urged her sister. "There must be a way out. Father will get a loan—his voice will come back, and——"
"It will be too late," replied Alice, in a low voice. "We will be put out—disgraced before all the neighbors! I can't stand it. I'm going to do something!"
She arose quickly, and there was a look on her face that caused Ruth to give start and to cry out:
"Alice! What do you mean?"
"I mean I'm going to see Russ Dalwood and ask him if I can't get work in the movies. If father won't, I will! And I'll ask Russ for the loan of some money. I can pay him back when I get my salary!"
"Alice, I'll never let you do that!" and Ruth planted herself before the door.
For a tense moment the sisters confronted each other.
"But we—we must do something," faltered Alice.
"Yes, but not that—at least, not yet. We have some pride left. Wait—wait until father comes back."
With a gesture Alice consented. She sank wearily into a chair.
It was tedious waiting. The girls talked but little—they had no heart for it. Around them hummed the noise of the apartment house. Noises came to them through the thin, cheap walls. The crying of babies, the quarrels of a couple in the flat back of them, the wheeze of a rusty phonograph, and the thump-thump of a playerpiano, operated with every violation of the musical code, added to the nerve-racking din.
Ruth made a gesture of despair.
"Beautiful!" murmured Alice as the paper roll in the mechanical piano got a "kink," and played a crash of discords. Ruth covered her ears with her hands.
There was a step in the corridor.
"There's father!" exclaimed Ruth.
"I wonder what success he had negotiating a loan?" observed Alice.
Mr. DeVere entered wearily.
The girls waited for him to speak, and it was with an obvious effort that he croaked:
"I—I didn't get it. Mr. Cross wouldn't even see me. He sent out word that he was too busy. He is getting ready for the first performance of 'A Matter of Friendship,' to-night."
"A matter of friendship," repeated Alice. "What a play on the words!"
"I sent in my card," explained Mr. DeVere, "and told him I must have a little money. He sent back word that he was sorry, but that he had invested so much in the play that he could spare none."
There was a period of silence. The girls looked pityingly at their father.
"Something must be done," he declared, finally. "I can try elsewhere. I will go see——"
A knock at the door interrupted him. Before Alice could speak Ruth had gained it. She tried to close it, but was not in time to prevent the caller from being heard.
"The boss says there's no use orderin' any more groceries, until youse has paid for what youse has got," said a coarse voice. "Take it from me—nothin' doin'!"
"Oh!" Ruth was heard to murmur.
Mr. DeVere started from his chair.
"The insulting——" he began.
Alice touched him on the arm.
"Don't!" she begged, softly.
Mr. DeVere turned aside. He slipped his arm around Alice, and, as Ruth came in, with tears in her eyes, she, too, found a haven in her father's embrace. Then the actor spoke.
"Alice, dear," he faltered, "What is the address of that—that moving picture manager?"
THE MAN IN THE KITCHEN
Let it be said of Alice that, even in this moment of triumph, she did not gloat over her victory—for victory it was. Had she planned it, events could not have transpired to better purpose. The combination of circumstances had forced her father along the line of least resistance into the very path she would had chosen for him, and she felt in her soul that it was best.
But she did not say: "There, I knew you'd come to it, Daddy!" Many a girl would, and so have spoiled matters. Alice merely looked demurely at her father—and gave him the address.
The girl was perhaps wiser than her years would indicate, and certainly in this matter she was more resourceful than was Ruth. But then chance had played into her hands. That meeting with Russ had done much.
"Yes, I think I must come to it," sighed Mr. DeVere. "It is being forced on me—the movies. I never thought I would descend to them!"
"It isn't a fall at all, Daddy!" declared Alice, stoutly. "I'm glad you are going into them. You'll like them, I'm sure."
"The actors—and actresses—if one can call them such—who take parts in moving picture plays must be very—very crude sort of persons," he said.
"Not at all!" cried Alice. "I was there and saw them, and there were some as nice as you'd want to meet. They were real gentlemen and ladies, even if the men were in their shirt sleeves."
"But they can't act!" asserted Mr. DeVere. "I have seen bills up advertising the moving pictures—all they seemed to be doing—the so-called actors, I mean—was falling off horses, roping steers—I believe "roping" is the proper term—or else jumping off bridges or standing in the way of railroad trains. And they call that acting!"
"Oh, you wouldn't have to do that, Daddy!" cried Alice, with a laugh. "Mr Pertell is putting on some real dramas—just like society plays, you know. Of course all the scenes won't take place in a parlor, I suppose. You won't have to do outdoor work, though, and I'm sure you won't have to catch a wild steer, or stop a runaway locomotive."
"I should hope not," he replied, with a tragic gesture.
"But that is real acting, all the same," went on Alice. In that little while she had come to have a great liking and interest in the moving picture side of acting. "You should see some of the scenes I saw. Why, Daddy, some of the men and women were just as good as some of the actors with whom you have been on the road."
"Oh, yes, if you include the road companies of the barn-storming days, perhaps," admitted Mr. DeVere. "But I refer to the real art of the drama, Alice. However, let us not discuss it. The subject is too painful. I have decided to take up the work, since I can do nothing else on account of my unfortunate voice—and I will do my best in the movies. It is due to myself that I should, and it is due to you girls that I provide for you in any way that I can."
"Oh, Dad!" exclaimed Ruth. "It is too bad if you have to sacrifice your art to mere bread and butter."
"Tut! Tut!" he exclaimed, smiling and holding up a chiding hand. "I don't look at it that way at all. I am not so foolish. Art may be a very nice thing, but bread and butter is better. We have to live, my dear. And, after all, my art is not so wonderful. I hope I have not exaggerated my worth to myself. I am very willing to try this new line, and I am very glad that Alice suggested it. Only it—it was rather a shock—at first. Now let us consider."
They talked it all over, and Alice went more into detail as to what she had seen at the moving picture theatre. Mr. DeVere grew more and more interested.
"It is very kind of Russ and Mr. Pertell to think of me," he said. "I will go and see this manager to-morrow."
The interview must have been a very satisfactory one, for Mr. DeVere returned from it with a smiling face—something he had not worn often since the failure of his voice.
"Well, Daddy?" queried Alice, as she entered the dining room, where she and Ruth were trying to make the most of a scanty supply of food. "How was it?"
For answer he pulled out a roll of bills—not a large one, but of a size to which the girls had not been accustomed of late.
"See, it is real money!" he cried, and he struck an attitude of one of the characters in which he had successfully starred. He was the old Hosmer DeVere once more.
"Where did you get it?" asked Ruth, with a little laugh. She foresaw that some of her housekeeping problems bade fair to be solved.
"It is an advance on my salary as a moving picture actor," he replied, hoarsely, but still with that same gay air. "See, I have put my other life behind me. Henceforth—or at least until my voice promises to behave," he went on, "I shall live, move and have my being on the screen. I have signed a contract with Mr. Pertell—a very fair contract, too, much more so than some I have signed with managers of legitimate theaters. This is part of my first week's salary. I have taken his money—there is no going back now. I have burned my bridges."
"And—are you sorry?" asked Alice, softly.
"No, little girl—no! I'm glad!" And truly he seemed so.
"Tell us about it," suggested Ruth, and he did—in detail.
"Then it wasn't so bad as you expected; was it, Daddy?" asked Alice.
"No, I found many of the company to be very fine characters, and some with exceptional ability. Mr. Wellington Bunn, by the way, is a man after my own heart."
"Oh, yes. He seemed very anxious to play Shakespeare," remarked Alice, with a smile. "I heard Mr. Pertell caution him about not letting Hamlet get into the parlor scene they were presenting," and she laughed at the recollection.
"Of course it was rather new and strange to me," went on Mr. DeVere, "but I dare say I shall get accustomed to it. There were some of the young ladies, though, for whom I felt no liking—Miss Pearl Pennington, who plays light leads, and her friend, Miss Laura Dixon, the ingenue."
"They were in vaudeville until recently," remarked Alice. "So Russ told me. Miss Pennington seemed very pretty."
"Passably so," agreed Mr. DeVere. "Well, our living problem is solved for us, anyway. Now I must study my new part. It is to be a sort of society drama, and will be put on in a few days. Mr. Pertell gave me some instructions. I shall have to unlearn many things that are traditional with those who have played all their parts in a real theatre. It is like teaching an old dog new tricks, but I dare say I shall master them."